Forget the dog days of August. The coach of the Nashville Metros wants to avoid the doldrums of June and July.
Beating the Indiana Blast this Sunday at Ezell Park and next Friday in Indianapolis would be the obvious remedy.
"Now's the time in the season that's real crucial to us," coach Brett Mosen said as his team prepared for their 5 p.m. home match.
"Players are injured, some suspended, others are tired as we go through training and we need that extra spark to keep us going. At the beginning of the season two months ago, our players were fresh and excited. At the end of the season they'll be keyed up. It's the middle of the season that needs special care to make sure you take advantage of the opportunities that come along."
Nashville (4-4-2, 20 points) has tied two straight games (1-1 on June 16 at the Richmond Kickers after a 2-2 deadlock at home June 9 against the Charleston Battery) and last won on June 1 in its 3-0 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup romp over the Greenville Lions. The Metros are only eight points behind the Central Conference-leading Battery going into this weekend's action and would like to make up some ground against a recently resurgent Blast squad, which is 3-4 with 15 points going into a road game with the Cincinnati Riverhawks tonight.
Indiana won 3-2 at Charleston last Saturday, proving it can beat quality teams on the road. They are led by 24-year-old Brazilian forward Rodrigo Costa, who has six goals so far in his first season with the Blast. He scored twice in the first half last against the Battery.
"I think half the battle with us is putting out own game right. If we can do that, we can play with anybody," Mosen said. "But Costa is a handful, and everybody warns us we have to take care of him. I think they'll try to sit in, frustrate us and counterattack with Costa. We desperately need four points this week to keep pace in the league, so we need to be ready for what they throw at us."
Sunday's game will be played without team-leading scorer Jakob Fenger and captain Steve Kraemer. Both were suspended for one game by the A-League after receiving red cards and ejections in the 1-1 tie at Richmond last Saturday. The team had appealed Fenger's suspension, but league officials denied their request.
Veteran defender Ben Fisher is now out for the season following surgery for a detached retina this week. "It's a huge loss to us, but Ben's sight is far more important than our season. He had a great season last year and a great start to the season for us this year, so he'll be greatly missed," Mosen said.
Midfielder Miguel Saavedra continues on loan from Major League Soccer's (MLS) Dallas Burn. The 17-year-old Milwaukee native has made four appearances for the U.S. U-18 National Team and was Dallas' sixth-round draft choice in this year's MLS SuperDraft. He played 59 minutes in Saturday's Richmond contest and had one of Nashville's best scoring chances in the first half when he hit a shot that sailed just over the crossbar.
Former Hampton Roads Mariners midfielder Jeff "Nacho" Dominguez has signed with the team. He is awaiting international clearance from Germany to play for the Metros. It is possible he may stay a few weeks or the rest of the season, according to Mosen. "He's in negotiations with a Division III German side right now, and if that came through it would certainly be a wonderful opportunity for him, so we don't know how exactly how long he may be here.
His clearance should come through soon," the coach said.
The Metros' schedule has been grueling, as they have faced their division's top teams on several occasions with some games played on back-to-back dates. Mosen feels his side is handling the pressures of the 2001 campaign well, however.
"I'm very happy with where we are right now. It's been a tough two months for us. We faced Charleston, Richmond and Atlanta ... and we've more than held our own with them. All in all, I'm quite happy."
The Metros will certainly go into Wednesday night's U.S. Open Cup televised second-round match with the MLS' Los Angeles Galaxy (9 p.m. CDT on Fox Sports World, via satellite or Comcast digital cable channel 105) trying to win, but Mosen knows where their priorities lie. He's even looking for ways to cut down some of the driving distance for the team on Thursday after flying back from Los Angeles so that his side will be as fresh as possible for the 6:35 p.m. CDT contest at Kuntz Memorial Soccer Stadium in Indianapolis.
"As exciting as Cup is, the A-League is our bread and butter. I would prefer eight points (two wins) against Indiana and a loss in the Cup to winning the Cup match and coming away with no points from Indiana," the coach said. "I mean no disrespect to the Cup, it's a great event, but I don't want anything to spoil our performance against the Blast."
Indiana at Nashville
Sunday, 5:00 p.m.